In the place where Lucas’s roar had subsided, silence lingered. Baron, peering through his spectacles, glanced around and gestured toward the unoccupied seat next to him.

Nevertheless, the indifferent Vinter disregarded Baron’s attempts.


Observing Vinter’s unresponsive demeanor, Baron closed his eyes. Alas, his endeavors proved futile as the atmosphere in the conference room grew increasingly desolate with the passage of time.

Lucas seldom revealed his emotions, and Vinter, who had been by his side since their youth, observed him intently.

‘He’s been rather forthcoming with his emotions as of late.’

Vinter’s gaze shifted from Lucas to Briella. Vinter pondered deeply.

When did the typically stoic and inflexible Lucas exhibit his emotions most prominently? Both Briella and Lucas had left a striking impression since their initial encounter.

Even then, Lucas had explosively manifested his emotions. And not long ago, he had even personally rescued an injured cat.

Such conduct was something unimaginable for the usual Lucas. Vinter’s narrowed eyes alternated between the two individuals.

Subsequent to Lucas’s outburst, not a single word was uttered in the conference room. Apart from Baron, each person was lost in their own thoughts, perpetuating the silence..

The suffocating stillness persisted.

Amidst this, Vinter caught sight of Lucas and Briella, who couldn’t take their eyes away from each other.

‘You said to use you and discard you afterwards.’

Even in the face of the outcry embedded in her emerald eyes, Lucas remained undeterred. He showed no signs of wavering in the intensity of her pleading gaze.

‘Didn’t you give your life up for this? So, it’s only right for me to decide how we’ll reach the end.’

Briella was the first to avert her gaze. Witnessing her reaction, Lucas spoke.

“Was I some mere stepping stone to you? What kind of emperor do you intend to make of me?”


Briella, who failed to grasp Lucas’s intentions, widened her eyes and questioned.

“Did you envision me as an emperor who uses the people of a kingdom destroyed by Rhone as mere stepping stones? How would I be any different from my uncle who beheaded his own brother, and leashed his own nephew, to then hand over to his son?”

Silence fell as Lucas’s voice resonated through the conference room. Vinter, reminiscing about past events, gazed sorrowfully out the window.

A cool breeze swept in through the open window. Judging solely by the scenery, it appeared infinitely peaceful.

However, no one present in that room had the luxury to enjoy the peace unfolding before their eyes. Baron lowered his head deeply, recalling the memories of that fateful day that began with Lucas’s words.

Sixteen years ago.

Since choosing Lucas, they had lost and forsaken many things. All in order to protect the monarch they had chosen.

“Who would follow me as I sit on the emperor’s throne, when that throne is defiled with the sacrifices and blood of others?”

No one answered Lucas’s question.

“This is not a position one can ascend to without sacrifices!”

Briella spoke with a lamenting voice. It pained her that she was unaware of his past.

She yearned to reclaim his rightful position swiftly.

Furthermore, she harbored the deep-seated desire for revenge, longing to exact it and be reunited with her child in the afterlife, free from constraints.

“Minimizing the carnage and bloodshed is possible.”

However, Lucas was resolute. During the time they were distant, he had become an even stronger and faultless man.


Briella bit her lip instead of answering. The seats occupied by the two of them were thorny cushions, where there was no room for retreat.

‘What the hell is happening here?’

Count Delevinge carefully examined Lucas’s face.

It was surprising enough that Lucas suddenly got married, but the fact that the woman was sitting at the conference table with him was quite unusual, considering Lucas’s temperament.

The Count thought of his own daughter, safe and sound elsewhere. She was his cherished treasure, blissfully unaware of the harsh realities that unfolded.

Unintentionally, a smile formed on his face as he thought of his daughter. Only then did he truly take notice of Briella sitting in front of him.

At most, she appeared to be just a few years older than his daughter. He worried that he had pushed her too much just because she was by Lucas’s side.

“I think I was rash. I would like to talk some more to the Duchess alone.”


“Come again?”

Count Delevinge looked at Vinter with a bewildered expression in response to Lucas’s pointed tone in his reply.

Vinter, too, seemed surprised by Lucas’s words, and there was a faint crack in his expressionless face.

“We’re on the same track now, aren’t we? It wouldn’t be bad for us to get acquainted.”

Count Delevinge smiled graciously. But whether he smiled or not, Lucas’s raised eyebrow did not come down easily.

“I will also leave the door open.”


Count Delevinge attempted negotiation, but Lucas did not even budge.

“Let Baron accompany you.”

“I’m busy! I have to change the bandages of the cat we rescued a while ago and feed it.”

Count Delevinge’s words were barely out, when Baron lifted his hand and spoke.

Baron vehemently expressed his unwillingness to be caught between Briella and Count Delevinge.

“Baron is busy, I suppose?”

Count Delevinge brushed his hand over his head, meeting Lucas’s gaze.

He merely desired a brief conversation; he could not comprehend why Lucas was being so obstinate.

This was not a private discourse between an unwed young lady, but rather one between a married Duchess.

The atmosphere in the conference room had grown even more desolate.

Baron was struggling to catch his breath, panting heavily.

“The weather is lovely today,” Briella said, “It would be delightful to have tea in the garden.”

“Are you inviting me for tea time?”

The Count hesitated at Briella’s words. If it was a tea time invitation with the Duchess, there was no need to seek Lucas’s permission.

“Yes, I would also like to have a conversation with you some more, my Lord.”

Ignoring Lucas’s persistent gaze, Briella nodded leisurely.

While Vinter and Baron declined the Count’s invitation in their own ways, unfortunately, the Count failed to understand their intentions.

“If it is an invitation from the Duchess, I will gladly attend at any time.”

“Then this afternoon would be suitable, I suppose. There is no point in prolonging the time unnecessarily. What do you think, my Lord?”

“That sounds wonderful!”

The Count responded enthusiastically, smiling brightly at Briella’s invitation. Baron, who had been observing, lowered his head deeply.

‘That gentleman still lacks awareness.’

With pursed lips, Baron quickly turned his head away from Lucas, sensing an aura emanating from him.

 “Like a mirage, she skillfully vanishes.”

Lucas gazed at Briella. Yet, she refused to meet his gaze.

‘What could possibly be the issue?’

Briella, like a masquerader, once again veiled her countenance and returned to her impassive state.

Observing her, Lucas recalled of Baron, whom was caring for a white cat cradled in his arms.

“Well then, let’s discuss this matter again after the two of them have had a sufficient conversation.”

Before Lucas could finish speaking, Baron swiftly stood up and made his way to the conference room door. His movements were faster than ever.

Briella also quietly rose from her seat, slightly bowing her head to Lucas, and left the conference room. Lucas felt uncomfortable as he caught a glimpse of her lowered gaze.

Nevertheless, Briella departed without hesitation, her dress, meticulously adorned by her maids, fluttering behind her.

Not knowing whether she was going to make preparations for the tea time she had invited the Count to.

As Baron and Briella vacated their seats, the other attendees, perceiving Lucas’s cues, hastily exited the conference room.


As the door closed, the only people left in the conference room were Lucas, Vinter, and Count Delevinge.

“So you’re married? Or were you seeking an ally?”

Count Delevinge sighed and looked at Lucas. Lucas, who had been glaring at the closed door, turned his gaze to the Count.

“You’ve already heard the whole story, so why are you asking?”

“I am conducting investigations, verifying the narrative at every moment, every second.”

Count Delevinge’s lips curved into a smile as he spoke. However, his eyes bore an oddly icy gaze.

“Oh, so she’s fallen into the Count’s trap?”

“Well, I was surprised to hear the news. Did you think I journeyed all the way to the capital without reason? The others scattered around won’t be any different from me.”

Lucas chuckled at Count Delevinge’s subtle jab.

Next to Vinter, he was the one who had stayed by his side the longest. Lucas didn’t doubt Delevinge’s loyalty.

However, there were moments when he sensed a scrutinizing gaze. Perhaps they still beheld the image of the young Lucas, orphaned and starving, haunting them.

Lucas glanced briefly at Count Delevinge.

“She guarded the side of the late Empress.”

“By the side of the deceased Empress Olivia, you mean?”

Lucas nodded slowly.

Unlike during the meeting, he appeared relaxed now. But his gaze was sharper than ever.

“You’re asserting that the Duchess is a shadow of the Empress?”

Count Delevinge shook his head in disbelief.

Though they were presently at odds, Marquess Ronae was once the greatest noble in the Rhone Empire, even greater than Gusto.

Certainly, Marquess Ronae remained an esteemed noble of the empire, even if his position was attained through the transaction of his daughter, Olivia, to Gusto.

Count Delevinge’s head, which had been visualizing a young Olivia, slowly swayed from side to side.

Unlike Marquess Ronae, Olivia was not someone who could turn a blind eye to the situation.

As the luminous rays streamed through the window, Lucas’s silhouette extended upon the floor.

Lucas and Delevinge were both immersed in different musings.

‘A shadow….’

Lucas recalled Briella’s expressionless face, like a doll, sitting at the conference table just moments ago.

Although she occasionally showed a smile these days, it left a bitter taste in his mouth as he remembered her face stiffening at his words.

“I find it hard to believe she is a shadow of Queen Olivia.”

“You speak as if you possess an intimate knowledge of Queen Olivia.”

Lucas raised the glass of water placed on the table in front of him. He had finished drinking the water in the cup, but his restless heart did not ease.

“She was a delicate woman.”

Count Delevinge remembered Olivia on their wedding day.

As Gusto’s loyal supporter outwardly, Count Delevinge, who occupied the western lands, had been among the invited guests to the wedding.

He chewed on his lower lip as he recollected the bride who seemed far from joyous. Unlike the detestable Gusto, Olivia was different.

“The palace is no haven for delicate souls. Moreover, the queen withstood years by Gusto’s side, clinging to the royal court.”

As Lucas looked at Vinter and Delevinge, he recalled that most of the failed schemes had been because of Olivia.

“It’s unbelievable.”

Count Delevinge touched his forehead. Formerly, he had held Marquess Ronae in high regard.

Thus, when Olivia ascended to the throne, he harbored greater resentment towards Ronae than anyone else.

Olivia, whom he had watched over since childhood, did not fit into that position.

He never believed that she, who had been gentle and pure, whom he regarded as a daughter, could endure Gusto’s cruelty by his side.

“That’s because Olivia was acting coy in front of you, Count. Olivia was mischievous, she likely played you.”

The two individuals, who had paused in front of a certain memory, smiled at each other. Sharing the same memory fostered a sense of closeness between them.

“I should get up now.”

“Where are you going?”

“Didn’t the Duchess herself extend an invitation to tea time? Since I’ve received an invitation, I must prepare accordingly.”


Lucas glanced at Count Delevinge with a puzzled expression. Tea time was supposed to take place in a spacious garden.

The lord’s attire at the moment did not deviate greatly from the invitation he had received. Sensing Lucas’s gaze, the Count spread his arms and shrugged his shoulders.

Looking at Lucas and Vinter, who were gaping, it seemed that no matter how much he eulcidated, the two couldn’t understand what the Count meant by “preparation.”

“How did you manage the wedding? And where did those rumors originate?”

“We adhered to the proper procedures and handled it reasonably. We quickly dispelled the rumors.”

“Yes, very well.”

Count Delevinge nodded exaggeratedly and turned around. Lucas looked at his back with a displeased mien.

Something was clearly missing, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.


“Who on earth spread such absurd rumors? The Duke Viterpan is madly in love. Tsk, tsk.”

The loud voice of the Count echoed in the conference room. The sound of his tongue clicking at the conclusion of his utterances made Lucas’s brow furrow even more deeply.

“Why is that so?” Lucas inquired, gazing at Vinter. However, like Lucas, Count Delevinge’s intentions remained inscrutable to Vinter.

“It’s hard to say,” he replied.

The two men sat facing each other at the conference table, their heads tilted in bewilderment.

Having lost his family in the coup d’état and possessing a hardened heart, and having a lady for the first time since becoming an adult, Lucas no matter how much he pondered, remained clueless to the Count’s intentions.

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